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Wednesday, September 01, 2010 

A journey into his own eternal self-righteousness.

If you're looking for something approaching a revelatory moment in A Journey, one of the very few to judge by the summaries and quoted extracts, it's probably in the part where Blair admits to asking Alex Ferguson what he'd do if his best player wouldn't do what he wanted him to and just did his own thing. In effect, this was the equivalent of asking himself what to do - not because Ferguson and Blair are in any way similar in style, but due to the qualities they share. Both could be described as great leaders, at being able to inspire when they need to - yet they also have substantial character flaws. Neither could ever find themselves imagining that they'd done something wrong, at least not something deadly serious; both are completely convinced of their own infallibility; and both are incredibly indulged by the media. The difference perhaps is that Ferguson has never been prepared to be overshadowed by anyone - hence why David Beckham was sent on his way. When it came to Gordon Brown, as Ferguson himself advised, it was impossible to get rid of him in a similar way as he was still going to be in the "dressing room".

Instead then, Blair's waited until now to finally give Gordon a kicking, and it really wasn't worth the wait. All we get is a repeat of the old slurs - no emotional intelligence, strange, a disaster which was foreseen yet allowed to take its course. Sort of the opposite of Iraq, in the latter instance, a "nightmare" which Blair didn't see coming and which was most certainly of his choosing. There's the nonsense as well, such as Blair's claim that it was he who thought up the independence of the Bank of England, not Brown as every other source in history has it. One wonders whether he'll later claim he was the one who came up with the "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" soundbite, another Brown creation, although one which Blair became famous for. Even the supposed shocking treachery of Brown is pretty feeble - threatening an inquiry into the loans for peerages scandal if Blair implemented the Adair Turner review on pensions. History, you suspect, might well judge Brown to be in the right on that one. The response from the Brown camp, or at least what remains of his supporters, described as being akin to a cult by Blair, which is a really quite astounding example of projection, has been remarkable in its reticence, amounting to Michael Dugher saying Blair's portrayal of Brown was unfair and unkind. If we were to believe everything else we've been told about Brown, he's probably chewing the carpet and throwing around the crockery up in Kirkcaldy in inarticulate frothing frustration as I write this.

The really, saddening, maddening, infuriating thing which his memoir most underlines is that beyond the few obviously false parts he seemingly felt he had to invent, such as his "premonition" of John Smith's death and his advice to Diana that Dodi was a wrong'un, is just how brilliant a politician Blair both was and still is. For all those now pointing out that he lost 4 million votes during his tenure as a response to his diagnosis as to why Labour lost, which I'll come to, he still won 3 elections, even if the last was just as much Brown's victory as it was Blair's. It's that this brilliant politician, had he truly been Labour, could have achieved so much in that time period, or at least so much more than he did. New Labour's real victory always has been, and remains, moving the country forward socially and ever so slightly marginally to the left politically, delivering a minimum wage and civil partnerships. If he had dedicated his energy to attempting to improve social mobility and life chances, displaying the same vigour as when he drove through public service reform and overcame all opposition to taking part in the invasion of Iraq, then much more could have been added to both his own and Labour's legacy.

The problem became, as John Harris has diagnosed, that Blair's belief in the virtues of New Labour as an ideology, if it can be regarded as such, is pathological, as well as delusional. This doesn't just drive him, as we've seen over the last few days: it also drives Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, the former most certainly pathological, as even Blair himself realised in the way he went after the BBC for getting far, far too close to the truth. Hence Labour didn't lose the election because it was tired and because New Labour itself had become outdated, it lost because Brown had actively repudiated New Labour policies. It doesn't matter that this is nonsense, and that about the only thing actively against New Labour which Brown introduced was the 50p rate of tax on those earning over £150,000, it's what's allowed Blair and the others to put the blame for the party's defeat elsewhere. It wasn't and isn't their fault; in fact, if Brown had done what Blair would have, Labour would still be in power. It's best to quote Blair himself:

Had he pursued New Labour policy the personal issue would still have made victory tough, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. Departing from New Labour made it so. Just as the 2005 election was one we were never going to lose, 2010 was one we were never going to win — once the fateful strategic decision was taken to abandon the New Labour position.”

The problem, I would say error, was in buying a package which combined deficit spending, heavy regulation, identifying banks as the malfeasants and jettisoning the reinvention of government in favour of the rehabilitation of government. The public understands the difference between the state being forced to intervene to stabilise the market and government back in fashion as a major actor in the economy.

Blair is in effect arguing that the credit crunch and the almost wholesale collapse of much of the British banking sector changed absolutely nothing, or should have changed nothing. If only Labour had continued as it had before, as if the recession never happened, adopting the Conservative stance of, if not quite doing nothing as was Labour's caricature of their policy, then doing less than they did, the voters would have given the party the benefit of the doubt. Blair is making the argument which the Conservative party even now is too scared to make openly - that it's the state which is the real problem, not the markets which so comprehensively failed to see that famous moral hazard in the bubble which they believed would just keep on growing.

Despite all his pretensions to the contrary, it's clear that he believes the Conservatives under Cameron have seized the New Labour mantra. He offers no criticism of the coalition, making not even the slightest reference to the public spending cuts which are coming, while claiming that the public got what they wanted in the coalition, something which the opinion polls are already starting to show is far from being the truth. Andrew Marr made much the same point in his interview: that Blair had always been a conservative at heart and only now is his head coming to terms with it. Not that he's necessarily from the mould which the Tories now draw from; instead he would probably seem most at home on the left of the Republican party, where his Manichean worldview on Iraq and now Iran would go down best, with al-Qaida and the Mullahs melding together into one amorphous whole which simply has to be opposed, regardless of any cost.

It's this which leads Blair to consider the ban on fox-hunting and the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act as amongst his biggest mistakes. The killing of defenceless animals for fun (sorry, I mean as tradition and sport) and a bill which makes it easier to hold governments to account are hardly incongruous choices when you realise that he still holds the Iraq war to be fully justified, for which he has accepted "responsibility" and where he has moved beyond compassion. More than that, he still wants to fight the battles of old, including five pages from Hans Blix's UN report in January 2003, documenting how Saddam wasn't co-operating with the weapons inspectors. And even though the WMD didn't exist, and therefore it makes no difference whatsoever whether or not Iraq was fully co-operating with the inspections, as he recognises as he also argues Saddam was just waiting until sanctions had been lifted to start the programmes up again, he still has absolute faith in his righteousness.

The well-publicised change in the title then, from The Journey to A Journey, doesn't just reflect a worry that using the definite article might have been construed as immodest or messianic, and if there's one thing Blair has always tried not to be, it's messianic, it's also that the journey hasn't yet finished. The direction of political trajectory is obvious, yet where it will end for Blair himself remains uncertain. There are hints of what could have been, as even now he's in Washington involved in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Perhaps also that reflects the greatest tragedy of all: that Blair helped relative peace to be achieved in Northern Ireland, something destined to be overshadowed by how he waged it elsewhere. And how.

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I think 'self' got missed out somewhere in the heading for this post.

I think you may be right.

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